MANILA, JANUARY 29, 2008 (STAR) HINDSIGHT By Josefina T. Lichauco - One wise man, only a decade ago, said, “We will create a Civilization of the Mind in cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world our governments have made.”

If this has become a tall order in our cyberworld right now, it is because the futuristic machine — that only the most profound physicists kept guarded in their minds and hearts, it seems, not too long ago — has now become a tired, overused, anger-spewing, mercilessly spamming, battered, exploited and maltreated machine that we now love and hate at the same time, the world over.

I still remember so well what former US president Bill Clinton said a couple of years ago: “When I took office, only high-energy physicists had ever heard of what is called the World Wide Web. Now even my cat has its own page.”

This gentleman may just about make it back to the White House through his wife Hillary’s possible election to the presidency as the first female president of the United States. As the US primaries reveal right now, she’s got an edge over young senator Barack Obama as far as their Democratic party’s nomination is concerned.

That same cat, if he is still around, may just about make it back to the White House too, especially now that these two candidates have reportedly aborted their debates on racism and gender, and moved to the subject of the country’s economy, which is in crisis mode right now. Remember when the economy was on a high during the incumbency of Hillary’s greatest asset right now, which is her husband? The phrase “It’s the economy, stupid,” was coined during Bill’s presidential campaign.

I have a friend is now retired and has allowed the computer to overwhelm and take over his life, in effect. This reminds me of a line I heard in a speech at a dinner in Boston circa 2002, that “The Internet is so big, so powerful and indeed pointless, that for some people, it is a complete substitute for life.”

Since we are where we are right now, for all those who have arrived on the World Wide Web, and whichever type of online discussion we are participating in, there has to be a code of ethics and conduct to observe. For that matter, this code that is evolving is being called “netiquette.” It is informal, very ad hoc still, and as long as you are not breaching your ISP’s (Internet Service Provider) terms of service or the laws of your land, you can actually say and do whatever you want.

If you are online, however, it will do you good, be extremely beneficial, and raise your online poise if you try and get on with the e-world around your fingertips. It would be good to observe a few basic cyber protocols.

There are a number of sensible basic rules that you can follow, in order for you to communicate, and be communicated with, in a civilized and ethical mode. It will also save you the pain, and you will be treated better by the persons, groups and organizations that you interact with online. Most likely, anyway, if you are a decent, ethical human being, you have really been observing these rules already, but it is simply beneficial to gather and list them down.

The following are by no means exhaustive or exclusive. I think, however, that the following five rules are the most important and basic in order to develop and formulate our own personal netiquette.

1. Check your temper and curb your online rage as best you can. It will never do us any good if we post in anger in any manner whatsoever. We must never forget the fact that everything you send online — your online rage — will end up archived in Google Groups. Venting your anger online will do you absolutely no good even if your online target (the enemy) is spewing his own online venom at you. It is not a question of this doing more harm than good. It simply will do you no good.

2. Never curse or swear online. The fastest way to get on the wrong side of an online discussion is to swear. If you are used to swearing and cursing, sometimes even in an obscene manner, in everyday life offline, be careful about doing so online. It’s not so much that you will offend, which is really your objective, it’s really so that the “holier than thous” of this world will not be able to snatch the opportunity to complain to your ISP.

But I read in a reliable manual that if you just bring down your obscenity level to an obvious abbreviation like “F” or “F***,” you will not hear even a peep of protest. And always remember that whether or not you feel you are anonymous online or appear to be, for all intents, anonymous, should you spout online venom and threats, or maliciously inject defamation into your online language, it is not only possible but easy to trace your origins and identity, and prosecute you under your domestic laws.

3. Stay as far away as possible from what is called a “flame war.” Unless you have nothing better to do and are a degenerate, you will not engage in “flaming.” Online, personal abuse is called flaming. If you want to court being flamed, all you have to do is express a contrary view using tempting, tantalizing lingo, and that’s it — you will get yourself into a flame war. You just have to avoid this.

4. Make your online comments and statements — contradictory or otherwise — short, simple and dignified. Your language should be kept streamlined and your signature as simple as possible. If you are, however, as I said earlier, an online degenerate, then you’ll probably just laugh at my advice.

5. Do not use abbreviations (sometimes you forget that these are known only to you), or acronyms, for that matter, unless your chat group is commonly aware of them. You also must not be such a grammar fiend and correct grammatical and spelling mistakes online. There is really no necessity to correct mistakes, especially if the chatter or online discussant does not have English as his or her first language.

There is another rule that is good to observe. Online language would say: “AVOID POSTING IN UPPERCASE” (all caps), unless you want to scream your head off emphasizing a point, so that you will not be considered arrogant, domineering or rude.

Of course it is always advisable to “post positively, which really means it’s better to invite discussion rather than make abrasive or provocative remarks. Besides, you also want to learn online — that’s the reason for healthy online discussions.

Netiquette is just like etiquette in everyday life. It just so happens that it is online. It really is all a matter of being sensitive and courteous, feeling the pulse of the other person online, and never losing one’s online poise and dignity. Since the cyber phenomenon, we of the e-generation should remember that everyone will be able to access what we post online and will know through our postings what kind of a person we are.

I read this in some notes I got in the past: “Never, never allow yourself to be an online jerk … for a jerk is a jerk is a jerk in any language online or on earth.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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